by Stan Fagerstrom
I cut my fishing teeth catching bluegill, crappie and perch.
There's nothing unusual about that. So have tens of thousands of other fishermen around this wondrous country. Most have likely gone on to concentrate on the larger species of sports fish. Even if they have, I'll bet most of them still retain a fond spot in their fishing memory book for panfish.
If they're like me, that's especially true when their thoughts get around to that scrappy little devil we call the bluegill. Ask an experienced panfish angler the following question sometime: "How do you rate bluegill when it comes to fun and fight?" Watch the eyes of the person to whom that question is directed. Chances are they'll light up like mine do whenever my thoughts turn to those scrappy little devils you find in the majority of lakes, ponds and puddles all over the United States.You're missing a whle lot of fishing fun if you don't get aquainted with these little guys called bluegills. They are tough little buggers. If they got much bigger than they do they'd run the rest of the fish out of the lake! They're great in the frying pan too.
If another fish has provided more angling fun for millions of Americans, I don't know what it would be. I've never known a serious angler who didn't have a high regard for the pugnacious bluegill. If they were the same size, those little devils would run every bass out of the lake and eat carp three times a day.
Bluegill aren't big. You're never going to really enjoy fishing for them unless you scale down your tackle to match the size of the fish. I'll take a look in my next two columns at the basics of bluegill fishing. I've caught thousands of these good eating, hard fighting panfish over the past half century. I'll share some of the thoughts I've come by as a result.
You can, of course, catch bluegill on natural baits. Worms fished on a small hook beneath a light float catch bluegills wherever they are found. But it's my contention that natural bait isn't a necessity. It lowers the sport to its lowest common denominator. You can catch all the bluegill you want on small artificial lures. The two best ways to go about it are with a light spinning outfit or a fly rod.
Use your smallest plastic grubs or worms on a small jighead like those shown here. Don't select a jighead that has a hook that is larger than a number 10. The bluegill has a tiny mouth. They won't get hold of a grub hooked on a jighead with a large hook.
In this first column we'll consider only bluegill fishing with spinning tackle. Ultralight spinning gear is made to order for bluegill. Get a light action rod of 5 ½-feet to 6 ½-feet. Equip it with a lightweight open-faced spinning reel. Load the reel with 4-pound test line and you're ready to do business.
Let's consider finding bluegill before we get into how to catch them. If you know the lake you're on holds these wonderful little panfish, ease along the shoreline and watch for feeding activity. Bluegills sometimes give their location away by dimpling the surface as they feed. They make a distinctive little glurp as they take something off the top.
If you spot such activity, don't run over the feeding fish. Stay back 30-feet and cast into the area where the fish are. Bluegills aren't loners. They like company. All year long where you find one there will likely be others, often lots of them. Whenever you catch one, work the entire area carefully. Hit it right and you may wind up catching 50 fish or more without even moving your boat.
You won't find a better way to introduce your kids to fishing than to teach them about catching bluegills.
You won't catch those 50 fish without knowing what lures to pick and how to use them. The most effective small lures I've found for 'gills are miniature plastic curly-tailed worms used behind tiny leadhead jigs in the 1/16th-ounce to 1/32nd- ounce class. The one you'll need depends on the depth at which the fish are holding. If they are fairly deep, use the 1/16th- ounce head. If they are up near the top, switch to the 1/32nd-ounce head.
Whichever leadhead you select, check its hook size carefully. A number 10 hook is ideal for darn near all kinds of bluegill fishing. It's small enough to catch average or larger bluegill, but it's too big for those teensy little guys you don't want to mess with in the first place.
I like to carry at least three basic colors in miniature plastic worms I throw for bluegill: black, white and yellow. I've caught fish on other shades, but these three will usually get the job done. How you manipulate the worms is as important as the color you select. If one color doesn't get results, switch to something else. Let the fish tell you what they want.
As I've mentioned, once you've got a bluegill school pinned down, stay back and cast to it. Let your jig sink, then start a slow retrieve. Make little flips of the rod tip as you reel. The lake I lived on the shore of in southwest Washington State was loaded with bluegill. I don't how many thousand I caught there in five decades of fishing, but it was a bunch. I often fished with a barbless hook to save time and to make it easier to handle the little buggers. Teensy plastic grubs like those pictured here are ideal for bluegill fishing. Use them on a lightweight spinning rod with 4 to 6-pound line.
One area I fished was elevated so I had opportunity to observe just how bluegill went about taking an artificial lure. I found what they often do is slide up behind the jig. They may follow along with their little blunt nose just a couple of inches behind until the lure. If the lure darts forward like it might be getting away---they grab it. Then they turn and take the lure going away. That's why I stress the importance of flipping your rod tip during the retrieve.
It's also important to not fish your tiny jig and worm too fast. If you're not getting hits up near the surface, let the jig sink and work it back as slowly as you can without hanging. The deeper bluegills are, the more difficult it is to detect strikes. Learn to be a line watcher. If you sense a difference in the feeling being transmitted up your line or if you see the slightest little twitch in your line where it enters the water---set the hook.
You shouldn't have difficulty finding miniature curly tailed plastic worm that are such super baits for bluegill. Stay with the really small sizes. If you're fortunate to get into some spot where the bluegill run big, and I've not found those places often, you may be able to go up in size a bit. Always remember that the bluegill has a very small mouth. Larger worms just won't get the job done.
Keep the size of the bluegill's mouth in mind when you select the miniature leadhead jigs you'll use with your tiny curly tailed worms. Even leadheads as light as 1/32nd-ounce won't work worth a toot if it comes with too large a hook. Again -- a Number 10 is ideal.
In my next column we'll take a look at fly fishing for bluegill.